From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.2, February 1949, pp.59-63.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The following resolution on The Election Results and the Tasks of the SWP was unanimously adopted by the Plenum of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party held on December 26-27, 1948 in New York City.
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1. The 1948 elections mark the end of a cycle which began with the termination of the Second World War and the breakup of wartime national unity. In rapid movements, the pendulum of class struggle swung sharply from the mobilization of the trade unions in defense of the living standards of the masses to a violent onslaught of reaction under the open auspices of monopoly capitalism, culminating with the Republican defeat and the restoration of a form of New Deal class collaborationism.
2. This cycle was characterized by two outstanding phenomena:
The failure of the working class to convert its vast and far-flung defensive struggles of the 1945-46 period into offensive actions because of the absence of a bold leadership and social program and primarily because of the absence of any mass working-class party. This resulted in a general retreat of the unions as soon as monopoly capitalism mounted its counter-offensive.
The aggressive drive of monopoly capitalism to replace the New Deal equilibrium of class relationships with one more favorable to itself. Flushed with victory in the war and backed by huge reserves, monopoly capitalism launched a drive to destroy the unions as organs of struggle capable of defending the workers’ living standards. It is now clear, however, that in the first postwar struggles the bourgeoisie was engaged in testing the strength, the unity and the endurance of the unions and probing the workers’ front for weaknesses. Its over-all purpose was to gain partial advantages from each straggle and to improve its position for the anticipated decisive conflicts. The tactic was promoted by monopoly-spurred inflation, by long-drawn-out strikes, by anti-labor legislation and through a calculated red-baiting hysteria, which aimed in part to change the relationship of forces within the unions in favor of the more conservative and company-minded elements.
3. The balance sheet of this campaign, as the 1948 elections approached, showed that monopoly capitalism had been successful in many of its objectives. The long-drawn-out strikes under conditions of continuing inflation had discouraged economic struggles, as demonstrated by a steady decline in the number of strikes. The passage and operation of the Taft-Hartley Law and similar laws in the states created an atmosphere of fear and confusion in the union movement and was beginning to cripple the fighting power of the masses. The red-baiting campaign penetrated the unions. Reactionary coalitions, with the priest-dominated ACTU playing a prominent role, won leadership in union administrations. Militant and class-conscious elements were increasingly isolated in the plants.
It must be understood, however, that these victories of the bourgeoisie were only of a preliminary nature. Except for a few instances where strikes were broken and local unions smashed, the unions remained undefeated, their strength was impaired and weakened but not broken. On the other hand, however, the bourgeoisie was compelled to pay a heavy price for these partial triumphs. It was forced to reveal its objective, i.e., the unrestrained rule of the nation by monopoly capital; the cessation of new social gains and the discontinuance of old ones; the crippling of the unions; the curbing’ of civil rights and the steady drift toward Brass-Hat rule and a police state. It was precisely this strengthening of reaction which alarmed the masses, aroused their resentment and was engendering a determination to resist the encroachments of reaction. A new leftward crystallization among the workers was in the making.
4. The main political instrument employed by the bourgeoisie for its reactionary onslaught was the Republican party. Under the leadership of Taft, the Republican party brazenly fostered the program of Big Busine.ss and openly proposed to undo the social reforms of the New Peal era. On the other hand, the Democratic and Republican parties drew closer together under the influence of the needs and habits of bipartisanship in foreign policy and the increasing prominence in the government of the Brass Hats and the representatives of finance capital, who remained aloof from the party struggle and pressed the interests of Big Business regardless of partisan party interests. The process of dropping the reformism of the New Deal, begun by Roosevelt in preparing for war, was continued and hastened under the Truman administration. But the junking of social reformism not only deprived the Democratic party of its identity as a distinct political force but disrupted the class coalition forged by Roosevelt and created a crisis within the party. The crisis of the Democratic party threatened to become the crisis of the two-party system.
5. Repelled by the rightward swing of the Democratic party, the workers began seeking new means of political expression. Under pressure of this ferment and seeking to capitalize upon it, Wallace and the Stalinists launched their third party. At the same time, the trade union bureaucracy began to indulge in increasing talk about the formation of a new party. The threat of a rival party sharpened the internal struggle within the Democratic party, crystallizing into a conflict between a left wing led by the ADA and supported by the labor bureaucracy on the one side, and a right wing led by the Southern Democrats and supported by monopoly capital on the other. The emergence of the Wallace movement brought the struggle to a head and settled it in favor of the left wing, which intends to revive collaboration with monopoly capitalism on a New Deal basis.
The danger of the Wallace movement lay not merely in its threat to supplant the Democratic party but in its aggressive opposition to bipartisan foreign policy. The usual alarm of the bourgeoisie at the formation of a third party was raised to hysteria by the threat of a new movement seeking to combine domestic discontent with opposition to the war program.
The mass discontent, reflected in the formation of the Wallace party, was similarly evidenced in the mood of insurgency among the Negro people. The emergence of the Randolph-Reynolds movement was one significant manifestation, directing the discontent of the Negro people into a movement of opposition to the Jim Crow conscript army. Here again this domestic opposition had the effect of threatening the world aims of American imperialism and sped the precipitation of the crisis within the Democratic party. The split of the Dixiecrats completed the leftward swing of the Democratic party.
Under pressure of the Wallace movement on the one hand and the discontented Negro people on the other hand, the coalition with the trade union bureaucracy was revived within the Democratic party. This renewed coalition found expression in the program of social demagogy adopted by the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in July l948 and advocated by Truman during the campaign.
6. The crisis within the Democratic party could have been resolved in a progressive direction, that is by the smashing of the Democratic party, only through a determined drive of the working class toward the establishment of a labor party. Neither the class base nor the program of the Wal-laceites equipped the Progressive Party for this task. The Wallace movement was the victim of its own success in identifying both major parties as parties of reaction and thereby forcing the Democrats to the left. As it helped deepen the gulf between the Republican and the Democratic parties, the differences between the Progressive a:id the Democratic parties on domestic issues were almost obliterated. At this point the Wallace party began to appear in the eyes of the masses solely as the instrument of the Kremlin, because opposition to bipartisan foreign policy totally uncritical of Stalin became its primary distinguishing characteristic.
The general effect of the Wallace movement was not to assist the process toward a labor party but to revive and strengthen the two-party system for the time being. The elections demonstrated again that it is unlikely that a labor party will emerge from a third capitalist party outside official union channels and opposed by the main sections of the trade union bureaucracy.
7. The failure to create a labor party under favorable political conditions of widespread disillusionment with the two-party system is primarily the responsibility of the trade union bureaucracy. That the bureaucracy could continue their bankrupt political line without serious opposition from the ranks was due to the weakness of the left wing within the union movement. The former left-wing groupings were corrupted and demoralized by the Stalinists, who in turn have become discredited among the workers and then routed by the trade union bureaucracy. The new left wing is still in its incipient stages of development. It has been unable to grow rapidly or to exert great pressure upon the top bureaucracy because of the economic boom, full employment, and wage gains which partially offset the rise in living costs. Where pressure from the ranks during the last depression was powerful enough to create a crisis and split in the AFL leadership leading to the formation of the CIO, the current movement for a labor party was strong enough only to elicit promises from a few of the top leaders for independent political action after the elections.
This process is best illustrated in the case of the miners’ union. The miners were the central target of the repressive government attacks against the labor movement. They were the victims of presidential persecutions by two Democratic administrations and of the Republican-dominated Taft-Hartley Congress. Yet despite governmental blows, the miners emerged from each battle with the operators with greater economic gains than any other section of the union movement. As a result, John L. Lewis could retain unchallenged domination of the UMW although his choice of capitalist candidates ran counter to the desires of most of the miners. It might also be added that although the supporters of Truman made themselves heard at the last UMW convention, no voice was raised in favor of the labor party.
8. The same economic boom which hindered the rapid growth of the left wing also militated against a conclusive victory over the unions by monopoly capital. Enjoying unprecedented profits, the corporations felt no compulsion to seek an immediate and definitive showdown. In addition, without a large reserve army of unemployed and with the sympathy of the veterans generally on the side of the unions, conditions were not yet favorable for such a showdown. Finally, the bourgeoisie feared a showdown could have set into motion such vast struggles as to jeopardize its attempt to establish a favorable political and economic equilibrium in Europe – the most urgent, immediate aim of American imperialism in its drive for world conquest,
9. The defeat, of the Republican party in the elections indicated an underestimation by the bourgeoisie of anti-Big Business sentiments among the workers and represented a defeat of Tory opposition to New Deal class collaborationism. The election results transferred the crisis from the Democratic to the Republican party but saved the two-party system for the time being because the Republican party still rests on a far more statile and far less contradictory class base than that of its political antagonist. At the same time, victory at the polls on a platform of social demagogy revitalized the Democratic party as a “liberal-labor” coalition, thus retarding the process of leftward crystallization among the workers which had begun after the passage of the Taft-Hartley Law.
10. The rocket-like rise and decline of the Progressive Party illustrates that there exists a large body of radicalized workers, disgusted with the two-party system and dissatisfied with bipartisan “cold war” policies. Brought on the arena by the Wallace movement, this force constituted the first mass opposition to the spreading reaction. The large working class following1 which rallied in huge and enthusiastic meetings for Wallace in the early days of the campaign was one of the most potent forces in pushing the Democratic party to the left. The election returns proved that the struggle for the allegiance of these advanced workers was one of the decisive factors in determining the outcome. This electoral incident provides a preview of the tremendous influence a substantial if numerically smaller revolutionary party will exercise on the course of the class struggle in this country.
But the poor electoral showing of the Wallace party indicates the collapse of an elaborate effort, with the active aid of the Kremlin, to build a competitive bourgeois reformist party. The election returns demonstrated again that support of the organized labor movement is almost as important in the creation of a bourgeois reformist party as it is in the building of a labor party.
11. The debacle of the Wallace movement is first of all illustrated in its small vote which totaled only 2½ percent of the electorate or a lower percentage than that received by the imprisoned Debs in 1920 on the Socialist ticket. In the final weeks of the campaign millions of voters who might have voted for Wallace chose the Democratic party as the more likely-to-succeed “lesser evil.” The withdrawal of Progressive Party candidates for Congressional and state offices led many to draw the logical conclusion of voting for national candidates on the same basis: Why support Humphrey against Ball and not Truman against Dewey?
The million and a quarter votes for Wallace represent the mass opposition to the bipartisan foreign policy in its cold war with the Soviet Union. This aggregate of voters consists in its great bulk of the Stalinists, their working class and middle class periphery and a new draft of radicalized students and intellectuals. The defeat in the election confronts this movement with the question of perspective. What next?
Because of the dominant role of the Stalinists in the apparatus and as activists at the base of the party, it would be incorrect to apply the criteria which doomed third-party movements in the past to disintegration and disappearance after less crushing electoral defeats. In this case, however, the future of the Wallace movement is bound up with the foreign policy of the Kremlin. It faces the alternative of re-absorption in the Democratic party or of a feeble existence as an adjunct of the Communist Party to be used like the ALP as an electoral machine, as a bargaining agency for deals with the two capitalist parties and as a pressure group serving the interests of the Kremlin clique.
12. The Democratic victory at the polls, achieved with the major assistance of the trade unions, for the time being has arrested the onslaught of naked reaction, strengthened class collaborationist tendencies in the country and has led the bourgeoisie to alter its “tough” attitude toward the labor movement. On the other hand, the victory has caused a setback to the movement and aspirations for the immediate organization of a labor party. The trade union bureaucracy, which several months ago was despairing over its future in alliance with a disintegrating Democratic party and gloomy about Truman’s chances, has received a big injection of self-confidence by the Truman victory and the defeat of Taft-Hartley Congressmen. The bureaucracy construes the election as a vindication of its class collaborationist policies and feels strengthened by its new influence in government circles. For the next period the bureaucracy has charted a course of extending its influence in top Democratic circles and its control in local Democratic organizations using PAC and LLPE as its main political instruments for this purpose.
But the election results have also stimulated the confidence of the organized workers in their political power. They correctly feel that their unions and votes played the decisive role in defeating Dewey and electing Truman, cutting down the Taft-Hartley Congressmen, and upsetting the plans of Big Business.
For the time being this heightened political self-confidence has expressed itself in the backward form of support to a renovated Democratic party as the vehicle for the realization of the workers’ demands.
Differences will tend to develop between the bureaucrats with their policy of complete subordination to the Democratic party and the ranks who will find their expectations unfulfilled. These conflicts will provide openings for Trot-skyist propaganda and proposals in the unions.
13. The length of this unfolding period of class collaborationism depends primarily on the economic situation in the United States and on the ability of American capitalism to grant economic concessions and social reforms which in turn depend on accumulating contradictions at home and abroad. The addition of the cost of social reforms to the cost of rearmament at home and abroad can only be supported on the basis of a continuing boom.
The present boom, however, rests on shaky foundations and must give way either to a devastating economic crisis or a stepped-up drive toward an all-out war economy. In either case, the living standards of the masses will be under attack. Once the economic basis for social reforms is undermined it will weaken the ground for mass support of the class collaborationist policy of the labor bureaucracy. As in the early postwar period, the Democratic party, as the capitalist party in power, will become the principal agency of a policy of reaction and attack on the living standards of the masses.
14. The ramified political activities of the unions planned by the bureaucracy within the framework of the Democratic party in the next period will tend to diminish the force of labor party agitation as a slogan for action. However, the contradiction between this political activity – independent in form but not in purpose – and the betrayal of promises by the Truman administration, plus its meager reforms, will give prominence to labor party agitation as a slogan of propaganda.
With a change in economic conditions, with the trade unions unable to advance on the economic front, the struggle for a labor party can rapidly be raised from the level of propaganda to that of action. Fundamentally, the slogan of the labor party will remain a key method of educating the workers for independent political action as long as a break with capitalist politics remains the central task of the workers’ movement. The course of coming struggles combined with the development and fate of the present People’s Front coalition will determine whether a labor party will be realized in life or whether that stage will be supplanted by the emergence of the SWP as a mass revolutionary party.
15. The defeat at the polls of the Big Business policy of open reaction will have two opposite effects on economic struggles. On the one hand, the resumption of class collaboration methods by the bourgeoisie and the granting of limited social reforms by the government will have a restraining effect on economic struggles and will tend to strengthen the hand of the trade union bureaucracy. On the other hand, the more liberal climate, allaying fears of heavy government repressions, can also load to an increase in economic struggles because wage increases will hardly keep pace with the rise in the cost of living and especially because improvement in working conditions will be stubbornly resisted by the corporations.
The tendency toward such struggles will cause conflicts not only between the workers and the capitalist class but also between the workers and the labor bureaucracy which will tend to trade working conditions for limited wage gains.
Retarded in its development by the Truman victory, the left wing will gain new strength from the struggle for those economic demands and reforms opposed by the bureaucracy.
Radical changes in the relationship of forces within the unions await the next turn in the economic conjuncture.
16. The central task of the left wing for the next immediate period is the organization of the pressure of the rank and file upon the bureaucracy to rally the masses of the workers to force the Democratic administration to carry out its campaign promises. As against reliance on the Democratic party and maneuvers for its reform, the left wing must counterpose a program of mass action. As against the extravagant lobbying plans of the top bureaucracy, the left wing- must counterpose the mobilization of all the unions in a Congress of Labor. To the limited reforms of the Truman administration, which will be readily accepted by the Greens and Hurrays, the left wing must press forward the transitional program concretizing those slogans which apply at each stage of the struggle.
Thus as against the reform of tle Democratic party we must agitate for the creation of a labor party. As opposed to government price control we must urge the sliding scale of wages and price control directed by the unions, mass consumer committees and working farmers. Instead of a limited excess profits tax we must fight for an expropriation tax on the big corporations and for their nationalization under workers’ control.
17. Whether or not a truce is arrived at in the cold war with the Soviet Union, it is already becoming evident as we predicted that there will be no fundamental change in the bipartisan foreign policy, of world conquest and little significant alteration in the Brass Hat-monopoly capital direction of this policy. Whatever its form, the struggle against war and against American imperialism will remain the central political task of the party. Opportunities will not be lacking for the resumption of agitation for a popular referendum on war. A new tendency toward international solidarity is rising among the American working class as was indicated by John L. Lewis’ support of the French miners’ strike and by the resolution of the AFL convention against “Taft-Hartleyism” in Germany and Japan. An active development of this tendency towards international solidarity, and its translation into action, will constitute one of the best practical means of extending and deepening the struggle against bipartisan foreign policy in the next period.
18. The least realizable of all the promises of the Democratic party are those made to the Negro people. To counteract the new power of the labor-liberal coalition within the Democratic party, Truman will seek to patch up the broken alliance with the Southern Democrats discarding all or part of his civil rights program as his part of the bargain. Precisely because of the large and decisive vote by the Negro people for Truman, cast on the basis of concrete promises, discontent with failure to realize these promises will go deeper in this section of the population than in any other. Slight reforms will only add fuel to the flames of this discontent and spur the struggle for radical changes. Militant demands and slogans will gain new strength under these conditions and will enrich our work in Negro organizations and the Negro community with an agitational and organizational program of action. Disillusionment with the Democratic party rising more rapidly among the Negro people should facilitate recruiting to the party.
19. The struggle to safeguard democratic rights retains its full validity despite an apparent liberalization of the new administration. It will continue to meet the sharp opposition of the administration which took the lead in witch-hunting and whose natural tendency is towards a police state. The first objective of this struggle must be for the abrogation of the subversive list in general and the removal of the SWP from this list in particular. The Kutcher case is the main vehicle for this struggle and must become the chief point of action for the party in the next period. While the case has already attracted considerable support in top circles of the trade union movement and among liberals, the main task of the party is to carry the struggle to the membership of the unions and mass organizations, to involve rank and file trade unionists, students and veterans in action on behalf of Kutcher and against government witch-hunting.
20. The party must take special note of the Wallace debacle and of the crisis of Stalinism and organize a planned campaign towards winning over the best elements in this movement. The million and a quarter Wallace voters will be particularly susceptible to Trotskyist propaganda because of the defeat of the Progressive Party at the polls and its complete lack of a perspective. More specifically, this campaign should be directed to the Stalinist workers and students who had hoped for a return by the Communist Party to an independent class and revolutionary policy after the Browder purge.
The dissatisfaction in the ranks which emerged then has remained to this day and has been deepened by defeats in the unions. The discontent was temporarily allayed by the prospect of a successful Wallace movement which appeared to be an alternative to the bankrupt post-Browder policies. Thrust into a corner by supporting a disintegrating People’s Front – while a newly formed People’s Front excluding the Communist Party has achieved partial power in Washington – the edge of dissatisfaction is now sharpened by the rout and capitulation of Stalinist trade union leaders to the CIO bureaucracy.
A well planned and steady educational campaign must be directed towards these Stalinist elements with the aim of recruiting larger numbers of Stalinist workers and students to the SWP than in the past. This propagandist offensive must combine the sharpest ideological attacks with offers of solidarity and support in united action for Communist Party leaders and workers singled out for government persecution. Proposals for united action can take a reciprocating and easily understandable form. On the one hand, we demand support and united action for the restoration of Kutcher’s democratic rights and on the other hand we offer our support and assistance in the struggle against the victimization of the 12 CP leaders coming to trial under the Smith Act.
The most important role in this campaign will be assumed by our press which will adjust itself in content and in tone to the purposes of this two-sided offensive against Stalinism. The press must be more widely distributed among the Stalinists and their periphery. Our general propagandist offensive against the anti-Marxists, the revisionists and the renegades will serve to demonstrate to Stalinist workers that the Trotskyists are the most capable, the most loyal and in fact, the only defenders of Marxism and Leninism.
21. The party must also take note of the first beginning’s of political awakening and ferment in the schools and colleges. The principal factor making for discontent among students has been a feeling of insecurity produced by the rapid steps towards waiv and the peacetime draft. The Wallace movement taking advantage of this ferment made considerable headway among student circles by its aggressive opposition to bipartisan war policies and to conscription. This movement has by no means dissipated with the defeat of the Wallace party at the polls.
On the contrary, the steady d»ift towards militarization, which will not abate under the new administration, will deepen the dissatisfaction in the schools and lead to widening discussion of fundamental questions. In the last several months our own youth groups, notably New York and Detroit, have experienced a revival, recruiting in a relatively larger proportion than the party. We must take the offensive in this arena prepared for ideological warfare with all the enemies of Marxism. The Political Committee and local branches should specifically assign leading comrades to the work of developing our youth groups and extending our influence on the campus.
22. The great achievement of our presidential campaign – making the party known to millions of workers, linking the name and teachings of Trotsky to that of the Socialist Workers Party and establishing the SWP as the extreme left wing of American politics – will become one of our biggest assets in the next period. But this gain can be quickly cancelled out .because of our small numbers if the party returns to circle and sectarian methods of propaganda and agitation activities. Despite our limited numbers and resources, the party must act like a party and not like a propaganda group.
The methods of agitation developed during the presidential campaign, and modified to apply to the new situation, must be injected into every opening created by new developments. The spokesmen of the party, who headed the campaign on a national and local scale, must be kept in the public eye, intervening in public actions and government hearings wherever the slightest opening exists. Every opportunity to obtain time on the radio or publicity in the press must be exploited. Insofar as possible, our Marxist propaganda campaign should seek a wider arena than that afforded by the party itself through the organization of public debates, symposiums and through the intervention of prominent party spokesmen in the colleges and universities.
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The main orientation of the party since 1938 and particularly since the breakup of wartime national unity has been the struggle for working class political independence and the formation of a labor party. Our struggle for this program was facilitated by the abandonment of New Deal reformism by the bourgeoisie and the con-sequent weakening of the two-party system.
The strike-breaking actions of the Truman administration, the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Law, the drift towards Brass Hat government and a police state – all combined to disintegrate the Democratic party and to discredit the political program of the. union bureaucracy. Moreover, the overwhelming weight of government intervention in union affairs and strikes tended to point to political solutions for economic and trade union problems. As a result, the program of the SWP gained a constantly widening audience among radicalized workers discontented with the bankrupt policies of the trade union bureaucracy.
The results of the election have altered this situation at least for the next period. It is characterized by a revival of New Deal class collaborationism with a number of important differences from the Roosevelt era. The preponderant role of the workers in. the Truman victory on thn one side and the defection of the Dixiecrats on the other gives greater weight to the union bureaucracy and to bourgeois liberals within the Democratic party and the new administration.
In its reconstituted form the Democratic party – and to a lesser extent, the Democratic administration – resembles a People’s Front, inasmuch as a People’s Front coalition of labor bureaucrats and New Deal bourgeois liberals operates as an organized force within the party and exercises substantial influence over its policies. Differing in form from the European People’s Fronts which consisted of a political coalition of working class and bourgeois reformist parties and the unions, the present American People’s Front consists of all these forces, minus a mass working class party, operating as factions within the Democratic party.
Allowing for differences in the objective situation, the major aim of the People’s Front on both continents is similar. The People’s Front in Europe sought to stop fascism on the one side and prevent proletarian revolution on the other. In this country it is directed against open capitalist reaction and against independent political organization of the working class. Class collaboration, social demagogy and social reformism are the principal methods of the People’s Front here as they are in Europe.
The altered situation requires a certain revision in tactics for the party and imposes new tasks upon it.
- First and foremost, the party must patiently explain its program to the workers. We must expose the fraud of class collaborationism as a substitute for class struggle in solving the problems of the workers. It must point out how People’s Frontism disarms the workers, emasculates their independent strength and saturates the working masses with illusions about the good intentions of the class enemy.
- Second, the party must analyze every stage in the development of this People’s Front in order to formulate timely changes of tactics.
- Third, the party must seek to participate in all mass struggles in opposition to the new administration.
To counteract the danger of sectarian isolation, the party must combine with its fundamental propaganda timely answers to current questions and appropriate action slogans. The jiarty must seek out opportunities for action on day-to-day issues and on the electoral field. We must lose no occasion to demonstrate the implacable opposition of Trotskyism to all forms of class collaborationism.
On the favorable side are the following factors:
- The awakening of the self-confidence of the masses, their distrust of capitalist propaganda and their “wait-and-see” attitude towards the Truman administration which they elected as a “lesser evil” and not as “their own labor government” as was the case with the British workers.
- The capitalist form and content of the party in power which is subject neither to the control of the workers nor of the labor bureaucrats who at best are second-rate citizens in this capitalist coalition.
- The contradictions and crises of world capitalism which now affect American capitalism with an impact almost equal to its own domestic contradictions and difficulties. These world contradictions, set specific limits to the reformism of the new administration and paves the way for its discreditment.
To understand these factors as Marxists and to act upon them as Bolsheviks is to insure the progress of the party in the next period.
Last updated on 3.3.2009